Building Healthy Bones – Part II

Building healthy bones is extremely important.  Minerals are incorporated into our bones during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Once we hit 30 years of age, we have achieved as much bone mass as we will ever have.

If not enough bone mass is created during this time, or if bone loss occurs later in live, we have an increased risk of developing softer bones, (osteopenia), or worse, fragile bones that break easily (osteoporosis).

Fortunately, many nutrition and lifestyle habits can help to build strong bones and maintain them through the aging process. In my last newsletter/blog, I discussed some foods and supplements which are helpful. (Read all about that here.) 

I turn now to one of the most important lifestyle components for strong, healthy bones –exercise. There are some specific types of exercise that are relevant here.

Weight Training Promotes the Formation of New Bone.

Studies in children, including those with type 1 diabetes, have found that this type of activity increases the amount of bone created during the years of peak bone growth.  It can also be extremely useful for preventing bone loss in older adults.  Research with older men and women has shown that those who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.

One study in particular showed that postmenopausal women who participated in a strength training program for a year saw significant increases in their bone density in the spine and hips, areas affected most by osteoporosis in older women.

Maintaining strong muscles through weight training helps to maintain balance and coordination – critical elements in preventing falls, which can lead to osteoporosis-related fractures.

So Many Benefits

There are reasons other than building healthy bones to add strength training to your exercise plan. Actually, it is an important part of an overall fitness program.  Consider what weight and resistance work can do for you.

-Manage weight effectively. Strength training can help you reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and, by increasing your metabolism, burn calories more efficiently .

– Sharpen your thinking skills. Some research suggests that regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills for older adults.

– Improve chronic conditions. Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, obesity, heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

-Enhance your quality of life. Strength training can improve your ability to do everyday activities.  Building muscle and bone can contribute to better balance and reduce your risk of falls.

Options Abound.

Strength training can be done at home or in the gym. Some common choices include

  • Body weight. You can do many exercises with little or no equipment. Try pushups, pullups, planks, and leg squats.
  • Resistance tubing. It is inexpensive, lightweight tubing that provides resistance when stretched. Any sporting goods store carries a good selection of them.
  • Free weights. Barbells and dumbbells are classic training tools. (Soup cans make good starter equipment here, until you “upgrade.”)
  • Weight machines. Most fitness centers offer various resistance machines, and there are generally people there who are willing to help you get started. Another option is to invest in some machinery for home use.

Just Do It!

If you are older than 40, or have a chronic condition, and haven’t been active lately, check with your doctor before beginning a strength and conditioning or aerobics program.

Before beginning strength training, warm up with brisk walking or another aerobic activity for five or ten minutes.  Cold muscles are more prone to injury than are warm muscles.

Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.  When you can easily do more repetitions of a certain exercise, gradually the number of repetitions, then increase the weight or resistance.

Research shows that a single set of 12-15 repetitions with the proper weight can build muscle efficiently inmost people and can be as effective as three sets of the same exercise.

To give your muscles time to recover, rest one full day between exercising each specific muscle group.

Be Sure to Listen to Your Body.

If a strength training exercise causes pain, stop the exercise. Consider trying a lower weight and/or trying it again in a few days. Also, consider working  under the supervision of a qualified, certified personal trainer, especially at first, and particularly if you have any medical issues. This was my approach after been laid off most exercise because of a shoulder injury, followed by treatment and then physical therapy, for about 18 months.  I was very “deconditioned” at that point. I knew that I needed to build strength in my muscles and bones and was afraid of hurting myself again.  Spooky.  Having a personal trainer was one of the best decisions I’d made in a while. He was encouraging, helped me to have proper technique, and to work at non-harmful levels.*

There will be results sooner than you many think.

It Doesn’t Take Hours on End of Lifting Weights to Benefit from Strength Training.

Most people see significant improvement in many areas with just two or three 20-30 minute weight training sessions a week. That’s as much as The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating.

Muscle mass grows and bone density improves over time. The limits to gaining strength, balance, and flexibility are broad, indeed, and your efforts will keep you feeling more fit and vibrant than you could imagine. Go for it.

*As it turns out, the trainer that I work with and I started  strength and conditioning groups for women and men 55 and over. They been met with lots enthusiasm. If you are in central Missouri, email Chad Coy at, or contact me at for more information.

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